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“What Should I Say?”: Julie Hanks Answers 3 Tough Relationship Qs

Relationships can bring great job and fulfillment to our lives. However, at some point we all find ourselves in uncomfortable scenarios where it may be difficult to find the right words to communicate to a family member or close friend. The following are reader-submitted questions about common relationship problems, along with tactful strategies to handle them.

1) My younger sister has been giving me the silent treatment for over a year. Apparently, she is holding a grudge, although I have no idea what it’s about. She told me once that our mom told her not to talk to me about it. What should I do?

The first thing to know is that the involvement of a third party (your mother, in this case) rarely if ever does any good and only serves to unnecessarily complicate things. Don’t be afraid to politely insist that the matter stay between you and your sister.

This is a particularly difficult relationship problem, as you have to be the one to make the first move even though she is the individual who has felt wronged. You must now embrace that things are going to be uncomfortable and “go toward the awkward.” Go directly to your sister and begin the conversation with a phrase like “Obviously, I have done something to hurt you.” You don’t need to be overly defensive, but if you honestly have no inclination of why she is upset, you need to first try to understand where she is coming from.

Hopefully, your sister reciprocates the honesty and informs you of what is going on. From there, you can take steps to repair the relationship. Know that it is possible that you are partially responsible for the rift. However, she might be unwilling to talk about it or work toward constructive solutions. In this case, you have done all you could and need to let it be. Relationships are always a two-way street; you do the best you can to communicate, but the other person needs to take responsibility as well.

2) My Friend’s Husband is Emotionally Abusive.
Should I talk to her about it, and if so, how?

“Emotional abuse” is a term we use a lot. There are of course legitimate instances of a person being abusive emotionally, but there may be times when we perceive something as worse than it is because our own emotional history and experiences causes us to be hypersensitive to certain behaviors or words.

That being said, never discount your feelings of concern for a friend who may be experiencing this type of abuse at the hands of a spouse. The best thing (really the only thing) to do at this point is to go to your friend and talk about it! Be sure to stay on your side of the court by expressing how you see things from your perspective Phrase your language by saying things like, “from what I have observed,” there could be a problem or “I love you and have concerns about some of the things I have seen and heard.”  It’s important that you don’t vilify the husband. Make sure to acknowledge that you know he loves her and means well. This will assure your friend that you aren’t insulting or attacking him.

You need to be ready for the possibility that your friend will not like what she is hearing. If she’s unwilling or not (yet) wanting to deal with what’s happening, she very well may pull back from the relationship. But if you truly care about your friend, you will value her well-being more than your comfort level, or even more than the friendship you two share. But your insight into how her husband treats her may be just what she needs to see things more clearly.

3) My sister-in-law continually insults me. I know she probably doesn’t mean it, but it’s very hurtful. I try to avoid her, but I can’t stop going to family events completely. What should I do?

In situations like this, the person who is the scariest emotionally (in your case, your sister-in-law) has the most power. She is insulting and insensitive, while you are the one tiptoeing around and having to go out of your way to avoid her. But you must reclaim your power in order to effectively deal with what’s going on.

When you have the uncomfortable interactions with this woman, you need to “go toward the awkward” and not run away. For example, if she insults your outfit or your parenting style, say something like, “I’m not sure how to take that; what do you mean?” Understand that by asking such a direct question, silence may linger, and that’s ok. But by using this technique, you are essentially holding up a mirror to the person who is being rude and insensitive and requiring her to clarify. It may sound daunting, but being open and honest can tremendously improve the relationship.

Unfortunately, sometimes people are intentionally mean or manipulative. But other times, someone may just be clumsy with words or oblivious to the message he/she is sending. You are good to give her the benefit of the doubt by assuming that your sister-in-law doesn’t mean to be hurtful. Many people who make rude and insensitive comments are speaking from a place of unresolved issues, insecurities, and pain. However, resist the temptation to ignore the situation, as it is clearly (and understandably!) bothering you. Being clear and communicative is how to effectively handle this type of relationship problem.

Have a relationship question?  Contact Julie here, and be sure to include “Studio 5 Ask Julie” in the subject line.

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